Some slept in shelters beds, others in tents or cars. A recent count found 777 homeless or unstably housed kids and young adults in King County on January 22, 2014.
“Count Us In,” is the King County Committee to End Homelessness’ annual effort to gather information about the number of local 12- to 25-years-olds who can't count on steady housing. This year's 777 total includes young people who are in danger of losing their place to stay, as well as those living in "transitional housing," sleeping in shelter beds, or places like cars, parks or abandoned buidlings.
“What we’re excited about is the information this gives us,” said committee director, Mark Putnam. “This data allows us to have conversations with service providers and funders.”
On Jan. 22, 46 percent (358) of the surveyed kids and young adults were staying in transitional housing, which includes temporary apartments or shared houses run by local service providers. Twenty-five percent (193) were unstably housed — sleeping, for instance, on a friend’s couch with no permanent place to stay. Another 16 percent (124) were “unsheltered,” and spent the night in a tent, car, abandoned building or motel. Thirteen percent (102) slept in shelter beds. An additional 222 survey respondents reported that they had recently been homeless or unstably housed.
Forty-six nonprofits and government agencies worked together to conduct the count. The United Way of King County provided a stipend to each participating agency to help cover costs.
Unsheltered kids are “the most vulnerable,” and a top priority for the committee. The county is part of the National Safe Place program which provides shelter for kids who have no place to stay. As part of the program, Metro bus drivers can help 12- to 17-year-olds get in touch with service providers. Kids in trouble can also text “SAFE” and their location to 69866 for immediate help.
Among this year's counted youth, 317 took an additional survey that inquired about their education level. Ninety were enrolled in school. Another 213 said they were not enrolled. Among the un-enrolled, 47 percent (100) said they held high school degrees or GEDs, or had completed some college courses.
Where They Slept
Source: King County Committee to End Homelessness
This level of education was notable, says Putnam. “What they really need,” he said, “is a roof and some stability so they can pursue those opportunities.”
In terms of age, the total count showed 621 youths were between 19 and 25 years old. Within the group of 317 kids and young adults who took the additional survey, 87 were under 18. There were five 12-years-old. Fifty percent were female, 22 percent LGBTQ and 54 percent were kids of color. Megan Gibbard, the committee’s Homeless Youth and Young Adult project manager, pointed out that the survey captured kids and young adults from nearly every zip code in King County.
The 2014 total of homeless and unstably housed youth was close to last year's total of 776. But the number of youth staying in shelters fell from 19 percent last year to 13 percent this year, and the number in transitional housing increased from 39 percent to 46 percent. How long a youth stays in a transitional apartment or house can vary, says Gibbard. Some stay as long as 18 months. Putnam and Gibbard weren't certain why the number of youths in shelters and transitional housing differed from last year’s count.
Last year, 100 local government and nonprofit groups teamed up to develop the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in King County by 2020. The plan would create new programs to reconnect homeless young people with their families, improve data collection on homeless youth and expand shelter space. It will also promote closer collaboration between government agencies, nonprofit organizations and funders. The annual "Count Us In" data will inform all the plan’s projects and programs, which should begin to roll out this spring. Youth homelessness “is a solvable problem,” Gibbard said. “Success is within our reach.”